‘Never Give Up, Even When It’s Hard’ – Inside Kirill Grishenko’s Rapid MMA Rise
Kirill Grishenko is one of the rare athletes who’ve represented Belarus at the top level of mixed martial arts, and he reached the sport’s upper echelon in record time.
The 31-year-old quickly rose to prominence when he earned a ONE Heavyweight World Title shot this past February – just 15 months after his professional MMA debut.
Before he returns against BJJ legend Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida at ONE on Prime Video 1 on August 26 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, find out how Grishenko adapted his lifelong love of combat sports into a new career.
Early Life In Eastern Europe
Grishenko grew up with his parents and sister in the small town of Kalinkavichy in the Gomel region of Belarus.
Though it wasn’t extravagant, his parents had good jobs and were always there for their children. As a result, the young athlete was free to pursue his own passions.
“We were an ordinary family with average income. My father was an ambulance driver, and my mother was a paramedic. My sister is 6 years older,” Grishenko says.
“My parents were loving and supportive. They still are. I love them. I’d say I had a happy childhood.”
Grishenko has been interested in sports ever since he discovered Greco-Roman wrestling at the age of 7.
Perhaps surprisingly, that love of athletics began more by convenience than desire, but before long, academics took a back seat.
And while the Belarusian’s mother initially resisted that decision, she backed her son’s efforts when it became clear he had a real future as an elite athlete.
“I was brought to a local wrestling club by my friends. They attended that wrestling club because it was next door to our homes. There was no other particular reason to join it – just something fun to do nearby. I was an active kid, and I liked it immediately.
“Even though my parents supported me, they did it in a different way. Mom always encouraged me to study more, and dad supported my obsession with sport.
“When I got accepted into the Olympic Reserve College at the age of 15, my mom realized that my life path was determined, and she had no choice but be supportive.”
A Life-Changing Move
After accepting his offer to attend the Olympic Reserve College, Grishenko left home and relocated to the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
Up until then, the teenager loved wrestling and had enjoyed some success, but he didn’t know whether it could translate into a career.
Suddenly, he had the opportunity to train alongside his nation’s top competitors, which gave him a clear and exciting path to follow.
“I didn’t think that my life would be connected with sports,” he recalls. “I thought about going to military school or joining the police, but attending that college changed my world.”
Still, it was not easy to adapt at first.
While the young Grishenko was motivated by the opportunity and well taken care of by the college, being almost 200 miles away from home at such a young age made the early days difficult.
“Adjusting to a new environment at 15 years old and being away from my parents was tough. I was still very young.
“Luckily, then I didn’t have to look for a job – they provided me with a place at the dormitory, food, and my parents gave me some money.”
Forged In The Fire
The move away from his family and friends in Kalinkavichy was one hurdle Grishenko had to overcome. The level of training and competition was another.
In fact, the teenager had some early encounters on the mats that could have made him regret his choice, but instead, he used them as a reason to work even harder and catch up.
“At my very first training session at the Olympic Reserve College, they paired me up with the coach’s son, and he just started destroying me,” the Belarusian says.
“I remember that after my first practice, I felt like a sucker. He did whatever he wanted to me. It motivated me right away, I wanted to get on the same level as him as soon as possible.”
Fortunately, Grishenko also had a strong support system in his new home.
The young wrestler found himself training alongside like-minded athletes who pushed him to go all-in, and he was willing to put in long hours if it meant achieving his lofty goals.
The 31-year-old says:
“My teachers, friends, and the more advanced students inspired me.
“I started dreaming about World Titles, I wanted to be a champion. I was very dedicated – the first one to show up and the last one to leave.”
From Wrestling To Pro MMA
Grishenko’s commitment paid off and led him to multiple national and continental titles in Greco-Roman wrestling, but in 2019, he reached the end of his road in the sport.
He was in his late 20s, and wrestling was all he had known. But with a wife and baby daughter to provide for, the Belarusian needed a new endeavor – ideally, one that would make use of his existing skill set.
Ultimately, MMA was the answer he came up with.
“I was very busy with Greco-Roman wrestling but knew of MMA. I followed some fighters who did boxing and MMA on social media,” Grishenko says.
“Their coach, Konstantin Mikhailovich Makhankov, knew about me. He was a versatile coach with a great experience in MMA and kickboxing. As a boxer, he was a training partner of Gennady Golovkin. He convinced me that with a good wrestling basis like mine I was still okay to make a transition to MMA at the age of 28.”
Although MMA was different and there were many new facets to learn, Grishenko’s work ethic meant he was a fast learner who rapidly added striking and ground grappling to his arsenal.
In 2020, he made his professional debut, and by 2021, he had signed to compete on the global stage, where he earned a World Title shot following impressive back-to-back wins.
Undeterred by his defeat to Russian superstar Anatoly Malykhin for the heavyweight strap earlier this year, the Belarusian will never give up on his quest for the top spot – and that’s the advice he would extend to anyone who’s witnessed his meteoric rise.
“You should never give up, even when it’s hard. Do your best, get up, and try to go all the way and achieve your goals.
“Look at me. Who would have thought that after only a year and a half in MMA I would fight for the belt?”